From Khalid Amayreh in Hebron
Palestinian leaders and Christian peace activists as well as representatives of human rights organizations operating in the occupied Palestinian territories on Thursday made an impassioned appeal to “all men and women of conscience all over the world” to help stop Israeli army plans to close down and take over several orphanages and boarding schools sheltering thousands of orphans and impoverished students. Many of the orphans’ parents had been killed by the Israeli army and paramilitary Jewish terrorists, also known as “settlers.”
The appeal was made during a press conference at the main Girl Orphanage in downtown Hebron. The Israeli army has repeatedly raided the orphanages, boarding schools and affiliated institutions, vandalizing property, seizing food, cloths and shoes and confiscating several buses and cars.
The Israeli army accuses the Islamic Charitable Society, the largest and oldest in occupied Palestine, of teaching school children “radical ideas.”
However, the Charity lawyer Muhammed Farrah dismisses the charges as “a big canard and a blatant lie.”
“We have challenged them to produce a shred of evidence proving their claims. And so far they have failed to prove any of their allegations.”
Art Arbor, a Christian Peace-maker Team (CPT) member spoke at the beginning of the press conference, saying he was pretty sure that Israeli charges against the Hebron Charity were “baseless.”
“As a former headmaster in Canada, I can say I have seen here some of the finest students and teachers anywhere, I have seen good teachers and good students fully engaged. Last week I attended an English class where teachers and students were having fun, I saw teachers who produce students who will act to make the world a better place.
“But all this is threatened now. And I want to tell you that what the Israeli army is doing is not an assault on terror but an assault on innocent people who take care of each other.
“ In fact, it is the IDF that is engaging in terror and we are here to try to stop it.”
Taking the floor after Arbor was Nisreen Shawar, a local English teacher. She accused the Israeli state of waging “an all-out vindictive onslaught of smear, hate and vengeance against innocent Palestinians whose sole crime is their insistence on living and surviving.”
“We have been wrongfully accused of being terrorists and promoting terror. We are not terrorists, and we don’t teach terror. We are actually doing what school teachers all over the world do, namely making children better people for a better future. We teach kids to be kind, to tell the truth, to be mentally alert, physically sound and morally straight. We teach kids the same subjects taught anywhere in the world.”
Shawar compared the “terror canard against the Palestinians with the blood libel against Jews in Europe during the Middle ages.”
“The only difference is that these canards are now made by Jews in order to justify Israel’s slow-motion genocide against our people.”
Nago Humbert, Head of the Swiss Medecins du Mond Agency, lashed out at the immense brutality and savagery being inflicted on the Palestinian people by the Israeli state and army.
“Closure of schools, storming orphanages in the dead of night, destroying bakeries, confiscating food and clothes, throwing orphan kids onto the street…What is happening here? What is the lasting image Israel is going to leave in the minds of these kids when they grow up?”
Humbert, who spoke in French, said he couldn’t really understand what the Israeli army’s ultimate goal by acting in this manner.”
“How can we teach Palestinian children non-violence when Israel is doing to them all this, when Israeli soldiers are throwing kids from their orphanages onto the streets. Israel is destroying all our efforts.”
Paul Rehm, an American Christian peace activist from New York described the callousness inherent in the Israeli army’s assault on Hebron’s orphanages and other charitable institutions.
“How can we really relate to these callous acts, confiscating school buses, raiding orphanages and terrorizing innocent children?,”
Rehm quoted Martin Niemoller, the famous Nazi-era German priest, who lamented the German people’s silence in the face of the enormous atrocities the Third Reich committed in the course of the Second World War.
“When the Nazis came for the Communists, I remained silent; after all I was not a Communist. When they locked up the social democrats, I remained silent; after all I was not a social democrat. When they came for the trade unionists, I did not speak out; after all I was not a unionist. When they came for me, there was no one left to speak out.”
Two representatives from President Jimmy “Carter’s Center” in Ramallah also showed up at the press conference and one of them delivered a statement from the former US President.
The statement urged the Israeli government to rescind military orders to shut down and expropriate school buildings, orphanages and supporting businesses.
Far from being fazed by nonviolent protests against its draconian measures in Hebron, the Israeli army last week stormed a bakery owned by the Islamic Charitable Society, seizing ovens and other equipments used to provide bread for thousands of orphans and needy students.
The occupation army also raided and weld-sealed a cloth-making facility employing grown-up orphan girls. Israeli soldiers reportedly warned the girls that they would be jailed for up to six years if they didn’t heed orders to leave the small cloth factory.
Palestinian leaders in Hebron have accused the Israeli state of “resorting to a dirty game whereby all they have to do to wreck a given Palestinian institution is to invoke the name of Hamas.”
“It is enough to claim that a given institution is associated with Hamas to destroy that institution. This is very much like Nazi Germany behaved toward political opponents prior to the Second World War,” said Muhammed Hirbawi, a Hebron civic leader.
Hirbawi said the Israeli occupation army was acting as a policeman, a plaintiff, a General Prosecutor and a judge combined.
“This shows that non-Jews can’t really obtain justice under the Israeli justice system. This is why the Palestinians need a third party to protect them from Israel’s wanton criminality.”
The Israeli army has not given really convincing reasons for its brutal onslaught against the Hebron charities. However, Israeli officials are saying privately at least that Israel is doing what the Western-backed Palestinian Authority wants.
Last month, an Israeli government official was quoted by the Israeli radio as saying that “what we are doing in Hebron is in the interest of (PA Chairman Mahmoud) Abbas.”
The PA denies any connivance with Israel against the Hebron charities.